The Chromatic Harp

The Chromatic HarpModern Chromatic Harp

The modern chromatic harp : two rows of strings cross each other. Each side has 6 strings per octave as opposed to 7 and 5 (chromatic harp “Pleyel”). Whereas the logic of the Pleyel harp can be compared to a piano, with 7 white and 5 black keys per octave, the 6 / 6 chromatic harp has no “favourite key” – F# major is technically as easy or difficult to play as C major!

A shape (fingering) corresponds to a sound / melodic experience, and transposing seems more obvious, seeing the symmetry – transposing any given shape means either to give it a parallel shift, or to mirror it, the crossing line of the strings being the mirror . To reach both sides with both hands, we usually play in the middle of the harp, close to the crossing point, with a mixed “thumbs up and thumbs down” technique.

This type of cross-strung chromatic harp has two whole tone scales crossing and complementing each other: CDEF#G#Bb on one row and C#EbFGAB on the other row.

Christoph Pampuch in Germany redesigned the first of these 6/6 harps in 1997. I got my first chromatic harp in 1999 made by the “Klangwerkstatt”. The harp on these pictures was made by Henrik Schupp (Hamburg). I’m very slow finding my way around this instrument as I am self taught. Seeing Christoph playing his harp did of course inspire me at the start, as much as the Belgian Pleyel harp players such as Cecile Marichal and Paola Chatelle. A big influence on my playing of course are the classical Pedal harp lessons I got from the Belgian harpist Sophie Hallynck many years ago.
Henrik Schupp’s harp needs more finger strength so it’s a bit more of a workout compared to the gentle klangwerkstatt harps, but it gives you more dynamics.

The reason I am very slow to publish sheet music for this instrument is that I’m still finding completely new ways of doing things. We also have a diversity of instruments. Fingerings which would suit a low-tension, narrow-strung klangwerkstatt harp would not necessarily suit my medium-tension, wide-strung Schupp-harp and vice versa.

LISTEN to a few tunes played on this instrument here:

The chromatic harp can also be heard with a Jazz tune on Amala’s CD “resonance” (2016) ; see